Assembly in unison to condemn Omagh bomb

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NORTHERN IRELAND'S new assembly united yesterday in condemnation of the Omagh bombing while remaining clearly divided on the controversial issue of IRA arms de-commissioning.

The assembly adjourned, probably for several weeks, after spending a day recording its abhorrence of the bombing, which claimed 29 lives. Political activity is, however, continuing at a high level as the assembly works toward the formation of an executive.

A sombre chamber heard a quietly impassioned plea from Oliver Gibson, a member of the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, for an "idyllic rural" memorial to the bombing and a special citation to those who coped with the aftermath of the attack. Mr Gibson, who is from Omagh, lost a niece in the explosion.

Many speakers, having condemned the bombing, went on to urge Sinn Fein to bring about IRA decommissioning. The most direct and theatrical came from Sir John Gorman, an Ulster Unionist and wartime British tank commander.

Addressing the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams across the chamber, Sir John declared: "Now Gerry, here is the chance for you to show that leadership and discipline which I know you're capable of. Gerry, you brought the Semtex here. What about a big bang to get rid of as much of it as you can?"

Mr Adams did not respond.

Also pressing for decommissioning, the Omagh Unionist Derek Hussey added: "The potential for another Omagh must be removed. This is the overwhelming public expectation, and for me it is the political imperative."

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, who declared that "we are here for a new beginning", said he recognised the mistrust on the Unionist side, but added that people on his side were also suspicious of Unionists and of the British Government.

He repeated that Sinn Fein had a right to places on the new executive: "If we are to be denied our position on an executive, then, in my opinion, it is the Ulster Unionist Party breaking their word."